1994 Directed by Michael Apted. Starring Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson, Natasha Richardson, Richard Libertini.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 6, 1995
Hunh? I'm sure this was not the reaction Jodie Foster was seeking with this initial release from her new production company Egg Pictures. Foster stars as the “wild child” Nell, a young woman who has grown up removed from civilization and speaks her own idiosyncratic language. Nell fascinates both the town doctor Jerry Lovell (Neeson), who first discovers her and the research psychologist Paula Olsen (Richardson), who wants to bring Nell to her institute for study. These two practitioners follow a fairly predictable storyline throughout the movie, tugging back and forth between instinctive and scientific approaches and, inevitably, falling in love. Their relationship is innocently goaded along by Nell, whose introduction into the ways of the world spur her desire for Paula and Jerry to play mommy and daddy to her babe. Though both can be remarkable actors, Neeson and Richardson are terribly under-served by this script. As for Foster, she speaks in a complicated code of gibberish which we as an audience strain to understand but ultimately say “Hunh?” Still, hers is a lovely performance which also utilizes a whole array of body language in the effort to communicate. Despite Foster's technical agility, there is something about her performance that approaches narcissism. Perhaps it's the excessive number of nude midnight swims or merely the showboat nature of the role itself, but the movie's primary focus is Nell's strenuous histrionics. Worse, it all leads up to the most painfully ardent courtroom scene since JFK, in which the whole town comes to appreciate the simple wisdom of little Nell. Director Apted was, no doubt, hired for this project on the strength of his deft handling of other female-driven character studies like Coal Miner's Daughter and Gorillas in the Mist. But even this director and the talents of three wonderful actors can't save this weak script.